In my presentation, I will look at altmetrics visualizations from three perspectives
As Metrics As Discovery and As Communication
In his course Data Literacy and Data Visualization, professor Braumoeller from the Ohio State University divides visualizations into four categories spatial (that is, related to space) time series relational, and graphical narratives
Let’s have a look at the brief history of altmetrics.
What types of visualizations can we find?
ReaderMeter by Dario Taraborelli was the first example of a graphical narrative or infographic of author-level and article-level metrics. A scientific business card.
ReaderMeter was a mashup built on readership data from the reference management and document sharing tool Mendeley.
Today, ReaderMeter is no longer operable, although Taraborelli has said that he might open it up again.
2011, the UK-based Altmetric company introduced a donut-shaped badge . Today, it is a de-facto standard. An Executive Summary of altmetrics, concise and carefully branded.
The badge is a combination of a relational graph and a graphical narrative. What the numerical value stands for, is not fully known, but in their own ranking, the bigger the better.
A recent novelty from this year is a donut without a score, an enhancement that has been on the wish list of their clientele.
This example is from the WordPress blog platform with a special Altmetric plugin. The popup gives an overview of the underlying metrics.
Badges are available in two different shapes,: the donut and , as in this example of mine, a small rectangular box.
Clicking on the badge, we come to the landing page at Altmetric dot com. Here, we can continue looking at details of various sources. Among them is some spatial visualization, the map of tweeters.
In November 2012, Public Library of Science and ImpactStory co-sponsored an Altmetrics Hackathon.
In there, Juan Alperin and few other people, coded ALM Viz.
This is a handy tool, when you need a concise, interactive time series of a PLOS article. There are both monthly and yearly timelines.
Here we have a screenshot of HTML views of one particular article.
Around the same time, ImpactStory launched its open application programming interface.
This example here is from my web application for the 18th Nordic Workshop on Bibliometrics and Research Policy in Stockholm.
Visually, the ImpactStory badges are nicely designed to avoid the so-called chartjunk. With only two colors, blue and green, they deliver information both about the actors, and about the magnitude of interest.
In May, Public Library of Science launched a special Metrics page to their articles.
The page is a combination of different metrics, arranged around a skeleton of different categories of public attention: Viewed, Cited, Saved and Discussed. The only visual element on the Metrics page is a time series with a stacked barchart. It shows a monthly cumulative view statistics, drilling down the total scores presented on top of the page.
Hovering above the chart brings up a tooltip that contains a table with detailed statistics in different formats.
As a bonus, you can compare figures to a number of reference sets, visualized as a green line on the same chart. In other words, this is field-normalized metrics in action.
We can argue if the barchart in its present form adds or blurs our understanding of the information. In this respect, the new PLoS ALM Reports is a step forward .
Reports saw daylight in June.
Now query results are visualized with bubble charts, treemaps and geo charts. Spatial, time series and relational visualizations , all on the same page. The underlying code comes from the Google Chart API.
On this slide we have a bubble chart , showing the usage and citation status of articles published by authors from Aalto University .
I would imagine that university repositories and CRIS platforms will offer this type of visualizations very soon, if not already. Ready-made software librries are a big time and money saver in visualization where there is no limit on how much you can spend on high-quality computer graphics.
In October, sociologist Deborah Lupton wrote in her blog that she had realized how the Quantified Self movement and academic life have much in common.
She writes:”As part of configuring our metric assemblages, we are quantifying our professional selves.”
When you make a Google image search with ’quantified self visualization’ you will find numerous examples from this field.
Here we have a timeline in the form of a spiral graph.
This graph type is visually very near to the so-called sunburst or treepie graph.
Plum Analytics is the for-profit US altmetrics company , now part of EBSCO.
In Febrary 2013, Plum Analytics had already introduced sunburts .
The sample researcher profile comes from University of Pittsburgh.
The company blog posting says:”With this visualization, the works that have less impact fade into the background, and the works that have the most engagement have a “larger slice of pie.”
The amount of information and interactivity is impressive.
However, it is not immediately clear to me, what do the different colours stand for, and whether there is any difference between the rings.
In September, the Scholarly Kitchen blog made a notable contribution to the discussion on visualizing altmetrics.
Instead of watching at fixed lists of scores, users need more freedom, was the message.
As a good example of this approach, the Better Life Index by OECD was mentioned.
In an interactive application, you can select and rank different variables with the help of a visual metaphor of a flower. The higher the flower, the better life is supposed to be in this country. The longer the flower petal, the better this dimension is compared to other countries.
In Braumoeller’s categories, this is a prime example of a relational visualization .
Applications of this magnitude are typically crafted by a professional data artist, or someone aiming to become one.
Jeremy Boy is a French PhD student in graphical design.
This interactive web application is part of his portfolio. Data is from OECD as well, this time visualized in small multiples with radar charts. You can
drag a country to the big radar below, like under a magnifying glass Select one dimension of life out of 11 radar antennas and compare countries by putting them as transparent layers on top of each other
Relational visualization is enhanced here by narrative elements.
However, constellations are fixed, and all you can do is play with the visual elements.
Still, I would imagine that there is a growing need for a solution like this, where you can compare the status of a number of objects along certain pre-defined metrics. Instead of countries, we would use research outputs or scientists.
Of course, I am not alone with these thoughts.
Egon is a postdoc at Maastricht University, the Netherlands.
When and by whom did the research output got what attention?
In his doctoral thesis on citing, Nelhans suggests case studies in scientific practice, something that is a healthy exercise in altmetrics, too. At this conference, we have had the opportunity to hear findings from some of them.
With directed network graphs by HistCite, so-called historiographs, Nelhans shows how different citation patterns form a citation topology.
Here, networks are read as top-down charts of ancestors. The horizontal dimension is not used.
With altmetrics data, we could mimick these networks by applying the horizontal axis, say, for swimlines that represent different types of sources.
The open API of ImpactStory was closed early this year.
Now, their badges are available only within the context of ImpactStory web profiles.
Here, the narrative aspect is even more prominent.
Outputs are grouped in different categories very much like document chapters, with badges acting as punctuation or comments.
There is also a small timeline: new activity in the last 7 days, is marked as flags at the end of the respective badge.
Although the focus of the ImpactStory profile is in humans, one can assign a profile to other entities as well, such as projects.
Moritz Stefaner is one of the leading data artists in Europe.
In his keynote at the European Communication Summit last year, he reminded us about the time of the first space travels.
Expectations ran high to see the Moon from close. But what happened was that our eyes were turned to the Earth. For the first time, we were able to see our planet from above as a coherent organism.
Perhaps altmetrics will become an eye-opener too. To quote Kraker: Similarly to citations, altmetrics can create pathways through science. After all, a citation is nothing else but a link to another paper.
As part of of his doctoral thesis, Kraker published an application for visualizing scientific domains.
Demonstration data consist of articles from Mendeley.
Kraker’s hypothesis is that the more often two papers are read together, the closer they are subject-wise.
A physical metaphor can be useful.
Stefaner explains how he applied it while building an interactive web application of risk assessment for World Economic Forum.
Positioned on same-centric circles around the risk we like to examine, the closer the circle, the closer related it is to the one in the middle.
From the perspective of user interface design, when uncertainty is a virtue rather than a problem, we need solutions that favour exploring.
One example is the search intent prototype made in the Finnish project Revolution of Knowledge Work.
Here, the radar-shaped universe of evolving search results is related to the same visual thinking as in the works by Kraker and Stefaner above.
This is a screenshot from PivotPaths, a demo application by Marian Dörk, built to allow casual exploration on an information space, typically a database.
The layout is three-banded. The resources, articles here, are the green ones in the middle.
On top, persons, - here, authors - , and at the bottom, facets. Keywords, in this case.
On far left, is the present anchor, in my example the keyword ’human brain’. So, this is a selection of articles containing that keyword.
Here, I am hovering above one particular author which reveals all articles he is a coauthor in, within this ”brain” context, and their respective keywords.
If I click the name of the author, it replaces the ’human brain’ keyword on the left, becomes the new anchor, and all related data is now pivoted around this author.
So now the layout shows all articles of this author in the database.
As Dörk has pointed out, the app has a number of caveats. For example, there is only so much space on the browser canvas. The article base can easily grow too big, and the number of coauthors as well.
Still, a nice demo, and something to think about when choosing a tool for visualizing, say, a subset of local artefacts and their citations or other metrics.
However, the user interface of information retrieval is not a completely new research topic.
Ever since the birth of the modern personal computer, we have tried to solve that problem.
Max Kemman is a junior researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, specialised in scholarly use of digital research tools.
These are interesting times.
After all these years of written culture, we are back in learning how to communicate with pictures, and it is hard.
Miikka Lehtonen, who recently defended his doctoral thesis at Aalto University with the name ”Visual knowing and visualizing knowledge in knowledge-intensive organizations”, goes as far as claiming that academia suffers from text fetisism.
Metrics, on the other hand, is a world dominated by numbers.
How to communicate altmetrics?
At OpenVis 2013, Mike Bostock , father of one of the most influential web graphic library of recent times, D3, talked about the difficulty of his field. Interestingly, he referred to it as a search problem, which he explained as follows:
”We have these principles of design and they are necessary to guide us but they are also not sufficient, they don’t dictate what a successful design would be. They are not blueprints. There are ultimately too many unkowns for the principles to be sufficient to tell us exactly what we need to do.
So what we need in a successful design process is to be able to explore as many of these possibilities as efficiently as possible so that in whatever time that we have, because we are always facing particular deadlines, we need to be able to spend a lot of time exploring things that are not going to work in order to find things that do work.”
Altmetrics is only a couple of years old. We need more time to find things that work.
From today’s perspective, it seems to me that Braumoeller’s last category, graphical narratives or storytelling, will be the next big thing.
And who knows, maybe stories might work. After all, there are people behind the numbers.
Sarah Slobin is a senior graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal.
Here she warns us about the hype and our blind spots when we work with person-related data and with fancy technical tools.
So how would narrative stories look like?
Limn is a new kind of storytelling journal. As the editorial board describes,
“Limn is somewhere between a scholarly journal and an art magazine. It is an attempt to communicate and display ongoing scholarly research.”
Articles in thematic issues are juxtaposed so that the reader can quickly get an overview of the whole spectrum.
I’ll conclude with a question: who will be telling illustrated altmetric stories about researchers ?
Some of us perhaps?
Future scientists themselves?
or maybe an algorithm?
Thank you for listening!
Altmetrics, metrics, data visualization
Aalto University Library